Very few catchers in history were the best players on their team let alone the best players on their team for a long stretch of time. But Bench was, even though he shared a clubhouse with Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, and George Foster. In his prime, Bench was a powerfully dangerous slugger with few peers in the National League. He’s the only catcher in baseball history to have ten seasons with a WAR of 4.0 or higher. At the same time he was an incredible defensive catcher who in some ways revolutionized the art of playing the position. There was no doubt that he was in charge when he was behind the plate.
Like all catchers, Bench aged quickly, and by the age of 33 his knees were so bad he could hardly play anymore. He could still swing the bat, and had he been in the American League he could have had two or three more All-Star seasons as a designated hitter. But he was a Red for life, and in his final season he was still a good enough hitter that he finished tied for second on the team in home runs despite playing only 110 games.
He and Rose were not good friends when they were teammates, and they never were. Cincinnati-native Rose was jealous of Bench’s fame when he came along as a rookie. It was Pete’s town, and anyone who threatened that was treated icily by Charlie Hustle. The frostiness between the two existed to some extent for the entire time they were together on the Big Red Machine. The gambling scandal that tarnished Rose’s legacy only served to carve a bigger wedge between the two. Bench is one of the legends who doesn’t think Pete should get a shot at induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
- The members of “The Great Eight” on the Big Red Machine were: catcher Johnny Bench, first baseman Tony Perez, second baseman Joe Morgan, shortstop Dave Concepcion, third baseman Pete Rose, left fielder George Foster, center fielderCesar Geronimo, and right fielder Ken Griffey. Four of them won an MVP award (combining for six awards in all), they combined for 24 Gold Glove Awards, won four home run titles, six RBI crowns, and made a collective 57 All-Star Games. Six of the eight players had at least 2,000 hits in their careers, and another (Foster) had 1,925.
- The Big Four in Cincinnati were Bench, Rose, Morgan, and Perez. The quartet dominated the clubhouse in their time together with the Reds. Rose and Morgan were closer to each other, frequently staying hours after games to discuss strategy and baseball. Perez and Bench were good friends and team leaders through their personality and example.